Sunday, 16 June 2019

Phantom Stranger #26, The Spawn of Frankenstein.

Phantom Stranger #26, Spawn of Frankenstein, Mike Kaluta cover
I've only encountered DC Comics' version of the Frankenstein monster twice. One was in the backup strip of Phantom Stranger #28, and the other was in the main strip of Phantom Stranger #26 in which the monster and the book's star sort of unite to do battle with the forces of darkness.

As a child, the former of those two encounters didn't impress me in the slightest. For one thing, the monster was wearing a cape - and it wasn't even a flattering cape. For another, he seemed a very passive and spiritually anaemic being. Reading that tale, it was hard to see him as a creature who'd tear the head off Victor Frankenstein's bride in order to send his creator a message about parental responsibility.

But the latter tale was a whole different matter. Drawn by Jim Aparo and written by Len Wein and Marv Wolfman, this time, he was a far more rugged, dynamic and driven individual who seemed to be permanently on the lookout for a chance to inflict some damage.

Admittedly, you still couldn't see him tearing an innocent woman's head off but you could at least imagine him tearing a guilty woman's head off.

So, forty-odd years after first reading that tale, what will I make of it this time round?

Phantom Stranger #26, Spawn of Frankenstein vs Phantom Stranger
The monster's out to reanimate a man called Victor Adams who, it seems, is responsible for the monster himself having been revived. Showing the spirit we all want from him, the creature's not doing this from gratitude but in order that it can inflict maximum torment on him. Mary Shelley would be proud of her boy.

But, to do it, he needs a laser gun.

To be honest, I don't have a clue how a laser can bring the dead back to the life but it's the 1970s and, in the 1970s, we have more faith in such technology than people in the 21st Century have.

The only problem is that, before he can do it, he's promptly possessed by two demons who get him to not only steal the laser but also abduct the wife of Dr Thirteen from the hospital bed in which she's currently comatose.

With stuff like this going on, it's not long before the Phantom Stranger shows up and he and Dr Thirteen set out to stop the creature.

Not that they actually do stop the creature. In fact, for all his big talk, the Phantom Stranger's about as much use as a chocolate fireguard when it comes to achieving their aims.

Phantom Stranger #26, demons summon the moon
Fortunately, that's when the demons - who've now possessed Victor Adams and Mrs Thirteen - make their big mistake. They decide to try and kill the monster, Thirteen and the Stranger by blasting them with moonlight.

Suddenly the Stranger's up against something he can actually handle, mostly because it involves just standing there and waving his medallion around. By this means, he deflects the moon's light at his Hellish foes and incinerates them.

Then everyone's who's still alive leaves, seemingly having learnt nothing at all from the night's events.

To be honest, because I haven't read any of the issues which lead up to this tale, it's an extremely confusing read for me. I don't have a clue who half the people in the tale even are. Who is Victor Adams? Who is Rachael Adams? Why is Mrs Thirteen in a hospital bed? How does Dr Thirteen already know the Spawn of Frankenstein? Who are the demons? What do they want? What is the big house the story centres around?

Phantom Stranger #26, demons destroyed by the moon
All of this is mystery to me.

But, in fairness, my confusion doesn't really matter that much because the tale has two things going for it.

One is that it moves at a high pace which propels you ever onward.

The other is that it's drawn by Jim Aparo whose pencils and inks impose maximum dynamism into every panel, meaning comprehension's an optional extra, rather than a necessity. It's true that sometimes you can read a comic just for the pretty pictures.

So, there you go. That's my verdict. It's baffling, it's great and, like anything drawn by Aparo in this era, it's well worth the read.

It also has a Mike Kaluta cover, so that's an added bonus.

Phantom Stranger #26, Spawn of Frankenstein leaps, Jim Aparo


Kid said...

This cover always reminded me of Swamp Thing #2 (and vice versa), though they're not exactly alike. Still, same sort of idea.

Steve W. said...

Yes, there is a degree of similarity.

Killdumpster said...

My few instances of reading Phantom Stranger were in my early teens. Wasn't much impressed. Maybe as an adult I may appreciate him more. Something else on my look-out list of collected editions.

Steve, how would you stack up DC's Franky to Marvel's interpretation?

Killdumpster said...

There was a 2-part tv event in the 70's called "Frankenstein: The True Story", with Michael Sarrazin as the Monster.

My littlest sister & I were watching it and when the Monster tore the head off Frankenstein's female creation during a grand ball scene, I was shocked, and my sister ran to the bathroom & threw up!

I have it now on DVD, and it seems relatively tame now. Oh, to have unjaded, youthful eyes again.

Steve W. said...

KD, I haven't seen a huge amount of either Marvel or DC's versions. The version in this issue seems to be a lot better than Marvel's Frankie but the version in Phantom Stranger #28 is hopelessly inferior to Marvel's version.

I remember that TV adaptation. It also featured Tom "Dr Who" Baker as the sea captain, which was very exciting for me at the time.

From what I can recall of it, it didn't bear a huge resemblance to the original book but, then, the original book is probably unfilmable, the way it's structured.

Anonymous said...

Haven't read this Steve, but I enjoyed the review anyway.
Seemed to me DC comics were often baffling, because unlike Marvel there weren't any UK reprints so it was harder to get a grasp of the continuity. Plus there was more of it because they'd been around longer (I think the DC Frankenstein went back to an issue of Detective Comics from the '40s... wonder if that means this story was set on Earth 2.)
That was kind of appealing about them, especially with oddball characters like the Phantom Stranger.

I did wonder why Wein and Wrightson bothered coming up with the Patchwork Man in Swamp Thing when they could have used Frankenstein. Its a bit like why bother putting out Man-Wolf if your doing Werewolf By Night.
The late Berni Wrightson of course went on to draw the best Frankie's monster...


Killdumpster said...

Having viewed 30+ adaptations of Mary Shelley's story (I'm a sucker for the theme), I would have to agree.

Marvel actually commisioned a Japanese anime version of Frankenstein, coordinating it with the publication of their title. It's pretty brutal, as I recall.

Like all things Marvel, they had to ruin Frankenstein with the "superhero-flavor" eventually.

If anything, out of all the interrations, the most entertaining were the Hammer films. They were very pioneering, focusing on the doctor first, his creations second. Sometimes he was written just insanely driven, sometimes a little evil thrown in. I salute Peter Cushing (as I raise my beer)!!

Dave Ryan said...

There was a 3-part "Spawn of Frankenstein" backup series by Kaluta in PHANTOM STRANGER 23-25, and then just a Kaluta cover on PHANTOM STRANGER 26.

At the same Kaluta did a beautiful "Carson of Venus" backup series in KORAK 46-56 (1972-1973), And Kaluta left both to work on THE SHADOW. (From which Kaluta was fired after issue 6 for missing deadlines, and since then he only does one-shot stories and covers. With the single exception of his STARSTRUCK series.)

"Spawn of Frankenstein" is an attempt to do a sequel to the Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley FRANKENSTEIN novel. Starting at the point that the novel ended.

For an interesting comparison, I'd also recommend picking up Wrightson's FRANKENSTEIN ALIVE ALIVE four-issue story for comparison, since it likewise is a sequel to the novel, by Steve Niles and Wrightson. Wrightson fell ill during the series, so it was a long time coming out. And the 4th and final issue was done by Kelley Jones (Wrightson's own choice) to conclude the series over Wrightson's lawyouts. I just got the collected hardcover of this series, that also includes the unfinished pencils that Kelley Jones inked over and completed. It's kind of an odd 8 1/2" X 12" size, but otherwise nice.

Killdumpster said...

Sean, I agree with you. On Wrightson. I have a stack of Bernie Wrightson 3-D hologram promo cards of Frankenstein somewhere in a storage area (which Indiana Jones wouldn't venture into).

When I unearth them this summer, I'll send you one.

Dave Ryan said...

The story in PHANTOM STRANGER 26 is the conclusion to the series in issues 23-25, with the concluding story illustrated by Jim Aparo.

You can read the preceding stories in 23-25 at links here:

Killdumpster said...

Hell, I'll send one to everyone that wants one. It'll be like Christmas in July, lol!

I'll let you guys know when I dig them up. Across the pond they probably weren't readily available.

Steve W. said...

Dave, thanks for the link.

Dave Ryan said...

Killdumpster said:
"There was a 2-part tv event in the 70's called "Frankenstein: The True Story", with Michael Sarrazin as the Monster.
My littlest sister & I were watching it and when the Monster tore the head off Frankenstein's female creation during a grand ball scene, I was shocked, and my sister ran to the bathroom & threw up!"

I loved that 1973 movie. As I recall, it was a British production. In addition to the story, it presents one of the earliest film appearances of a then 20-year-old and super foxy Jane Seymour. The same year, she also appeared in the James Bond film LIVE AND LET DIE, the first of the Roger Moore series.

Another DC "Frankenstein" of sorts is the villain Solomon Grundy, who first appeared in th4e golden age Green Lantern series. I first read it as a reprint in the WANTED:THE WORLD'S MOST DANGEROUS VILLAINS series.

Killdumpster said...

I was Solomon Grundy for Halloween quite a number of times in the last few years.

Once one of the barmaids had a Lady Flash costume on. We did a number of faux-fight poses. I wish I still had the pictures.

Dave Ryan said...

You're welcome Steve, I hope you enjoy the stuff linked there.

Another Frankenstein-esque story with Aparo art is the lead Batman story in DETECTIVE COMICS 438, where a monster is haunting Wayne manor, and turns out to have a less supernatural explanation.

DC and Marvel in the 1970's had so much good stuff.

Here's Marvel's MONSTER OF FRANKENSTEIN 1-18. Ploog was the Halloween horror king at Marvel, doing the earliest work on FRANKENSTEIN (issues 1-6), GHOST RIDER (in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT 5-8), WEREWOLF BY NIGHT (in MARVEL SPOTLIGHT 2-4, and then continuing in the WEREWOLF BY NIGHT series 1-7), MAN-THING (issues 5-11), GIANT-SIZE MAN-THING 1, and a few other great things, including inking Starlin's first published 6-page story at Marvel in JOUNRNEY INTO MYSTERY 1 (Oct 1972).

I recently re-watched the 1977 animated movie WIZARDS by Ralph Bakshi, and it has some really beautiful still paintings by Ploog during the narration sequences. As well as some equally beautiful work by S-F book cover artist Ian Miller. Something we were too young to appreciate back when it was originally released. The cable channel FXM re-plays the movie very frequently (on Direct TV, channel 258). Amazing that Ploog went from doing comics, and a year or two after leaving Marvel worked on a nationally released film in theatres.

Killdumpster said...

Ploog did the best Man-Thing, bar none.

Anonymous said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree with you on Man-Thing Kd, as my fave interpretation was by the mighty Alfredo Alcala, who excelled himself in Giant-Size Man-Thing (ho,ho)* #3.
Not that I don't like Ploog, but his best work for Marvel was generally in the black & whites (Planet of the Apes!); sadly, they often pared him with unsuitable inkers in the colour monthlies. So his Frankenstein wasn't what it could have been either.

Er, unless that means I don't get any Wrightson promo cards, in which case... you were quite right of course - Ploog FTW!

* Yes, I am that childish - that title always makes me chuckle.


Anonymous said...

How many people have met Frankenstein?!
Lessee, there's Abbott and Costello, Dracula, Billy the Kid, the Wolfman, Spiderman, Thor, Iron Man, Batman, Gene Wilder...
I think, sooner or later, pretty much everybody is bound to meet the Frankenstein monster sooner or later. Maybe even us.

So watch out!!!

M.P. (concerned for your safety)

Killdumpster said...

Nah, Sean, oh my brother, I'm relatively thick-skinned.

Still, Ploog's Ghost Rider & Werewolf By Night were also a visual treat.

As far as the Wrightson cards, after I find them, they'll be available on a first-come-first-served basis till they're gone. I'll make a formal announcement here on Steve's site.

It'll be (game show/DJ voice) "A Steve Does Comics exclusive!"

Sean, as well as Steve, you guys have one each on reserve.

All you folks have been great putting up with me, and this is just a show of appreciation.

Killdumpster said...

Heh. Giant-Size Man-Thing always sounded like a John Holmes film.

Anonymous said...

Big John Buscema did a few issues on Marvel's Monster of Frankenstein, which I thought were great! I loved his work, and wanted to draw like him, but there was only one Big John.
Actually, there's a very weird story about my introduction to that particular comic. I would understand why somebody would be skeptical, I have trouble believing it myself.
Anyway, it was around 1980, I was still a kid and grocery stores still had spinner racks full of comics. I would sometimes go to the store with my mom, because she would usually buy a couple for me, God bless her. (This was shortly before I made my fortune in the paper route game.) Anyhoo, in the racks was a copy of Marvel's Monster of Frankenstein #8. Guest-starring Dracula!!!
What was bizarre was that that particular issue had come out in 1974, and was priced 20 cents. What it was doing in a spinner rack in 1980 when comics were going for what, 35 or 40 cents a pop, is anybody's guess.
Had it been sitting in the back room for six years? Or maybe rode the spinner rack for all that time?
It was just plain weird, but I wasted no time in grabbing that comic off that rack with my sweaty little hands.
I read it till it fell apart and years later I snagged another copy from a comic shop. In fact, I got the whole dang run, uneven as it was.
But I'm still haunted by the weirdness of it.
Were there other forces at work? Dark forces perhaps? We may never know.


Killdumpster said...

There probably weren't cosmic/ supernatural forces at work for you to make your find.

Either the place where you found the book was serviced by a magazine distributor that employed rack-jobbers (guys that pulled the old stuff, put in the new, at minimum wage), or was a "Mom & Pop" that missed it when they were clearing racks, figuring they'd sell it eventually.

A lot of the family grocers & drug stores in my area literally seemed to hate carrying comics. Probably because poor kids like me took to long fishing pennies & nickels out of my pocket. Lol.

There was one cool place, called Reese's News. When I'd be able to dart in, old man Reese would let me rifle through the pile of comics he was going to send back. He was a cool old bird.

When I was 15 years old he let me buy Easy Rider magazine, lol.

Killdumpster said...

Going to pop in Frankenstein: the True Story in my DVD player. The second half. Then call my little sister with play-by-play, to see if she was truly traumatized.

Anonymous said...

As far as an explanation goes, I prefer "dark cosmic forces" to some yo-yo doin' a sloppy job fillin' a spinner rack down at the Piggly Wiggly.
Where's the magic in that, man?!?


Killdumpster said...

MP, your're completely right.

Apparently I'm losing the mystery and wonder, as well as the spring in my step as I grow longer in the tooth.

Charlie Horse 47 said...

Admitting one has been to the Piggly Wiggly is the first step to true healing.

Killdumpster said...

We don't have Piggly Wiggly over here in Penn's Colony, Charlie.

Is it any good? I like to try different places when I go on road trips.

Redartz said...

So late checking in here, alas. Fun discussion. LOVE that Phantom Stranger cover; Kaluta creates wonders.

Also love Ploog, especially his Man-thing. His work on Man-Thing, that is. I must watch my prose more carefully...

MP- cool experience finding that oldie on a spinner. I had a similar treat: found a copy of Giant Size Chillers 1 (with Dracula, from 1974) on a rack next to my dentists office about 1979. Happily grabbed it.

Steve W. said...

Better late than never, Red. The Phantom Stranger had so many great covers. Somehow, he was one of those characters who was better suited to appearing on the front of books than he was to appearing inside them.

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